The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind

            Children’s Day reminds of fancy dress competition and chocolate distribution at school to most of us. But when I think about writing something for the children’s day, the first thing which came to my mind was about children who are addicted to Tablets and smart phones which could be having a significant impact of the mental health of our children.
            My children, like many of their peers, spend far less time in the fresh air than kids did in the past. That's unfortunate, experts say, since communing with nature offers so many benefits. Outdoor time helps kids get exercise, stimulates their senses, and promotes cognitive development. And it can also make children more relaxed.          
            More and more children today have less and less contact with the natural world. And this is having a huge impact on their health and development. Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature?
            In an age crammed with TV, computers, and electronic gadgets, children are isolated from the simple pleasures of exploring nature. Tablets and phones have replaced the TV as a way of keeping children entertained, yet these devices could be damaging to a child's health potentially leading to technology addiction.
I recently watched my sister perform an act of magic.
            We were sitting in a restaurant, trying to have a conversation, but her children, 4-year-old Aaron and 7-year-old Ann, would not stop fighting. The arguments — over a fork, or who had more water in a glass — were unrelenting.
            Like a magician quieting a group of children by pulling a rabbit out of a hat, my sister reached into her purse and produced two shiny iPads, handing one to each child. Suddenly, the two were quiet. They sat playing games and watching videos, and we continued with our conversation.
            After our meal, as she stuffed the iPads back into their magic storage bag, my sister felt slightly guilty.
            “I don’t want to give them the iPads at the dinner table, but if it keeps them occupied for an hour so we can eat in peace, and more importantly not disturb other people in the restaurant, I often just hand it over,” she told me. Then she asked: “Do you think it’s bad for them? I do worry that it is setting them up to think it’s not bad to use electronics at the dinner table in the future.”
            I did not have an answer, and although some people might have opinions, no one has a true scientific understanding of what the future might hold for a generation raised on portable screens.
            Tablets and phones have replaced the TV as a way of pacifying children and keeping them entertained - recent figures, for example, have revealed that even toddlers use gadgets before they can even talk.
            London-based Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham and Clinical Psychologist Dr Jay Watts say that technology addiction can affect a child's sleep, interfere with meal times and eating habits and make children act up during play time.
            If a child is displaying signs of severe distress and agitation when separated from technology, then we know there is an unhealthy dependence. Parents today often struggle with understanding how crucial social media is to children today; the modern day playground is virtual.
Lack of interest in other activities
            One sign a child may have an issue with technology is when a parent is trying to get the child to do something else that is fun - such as going to the cinema or take part in an outdoor activity - and the child is reluctant to do so.
            If this reluctance increases and 'it becomes harder and harder to get them to do anything other than engaging with technology', they may be showing signs of addiction.
Mood swings and argumentative behaviour
            Children become very sensitive when any concern is expressed about their technology usage to the point it can easily escalate into an argument.
            Some children may tell the adult they don't understand because they didn't have devices when they were growing up.
            According to Dr Watts, “It's difficult for anyone born before 1980 to realise how central social media is to children's lives nowadays”.
Withdrawal symptoms
            If a child appears tense or upset when they can't get online, and this feeling noticeably goes away when they are given their devices, they may have a problem. They may become distressed or angry by small things and when they are back online become calmer.
Increase in lying or a rise in devious behaviour
            This includes concealing the extent to which they use their devices, hiding them or using them in bed without your knowledge. Additionally, children addicted to technology may also avoid or ignore real-life activities and refuse to go to places where their gadgets can't be used, such as the cinema.
            More than half of parents worry about their children's use of technology. A third of children check their phone for messages several times an hour, while almost two thirds use their devices in bed. It is important to restrict the time our children spend using technology to help prevent forming an unhealthy dependence. 
            Techniques include ensuring prolonged periods where children are focused on the 'real world' and play time with other children. Establishing a maximum daily time allowance can be a good place to start. It is also about making sure adults leave their phones off or on silent during meal times and when with friends and family as children learn behaviour from their parents. Parents should try to set down some 'compromise agreements', meaning families should spend more time together.
            As a rule, pleas for technology should be ignored, yet parents can also try to distract the child with other activities if it gets too much.
            The challenge starts when we reintroduce technology back into their lives in a controlled manner; they need a balance of activities to help children including an increase of physical activity.
            It is especially important for sleep hygiene that phones and tablets are not used before bed time and that they are kept in a different room overnight to stop children from using the devices straight before, during and after sleep.
            Children today are robbed of a very essential part of childhood: of connecting on a one-to-one basis with nature. Modern life is too regimented and deprives children of the opportunity of exploring and learning by themselves. In this context, the role of nature to stimulate their curiosity is even more important. According to educationists, the opportunity to explore nature helps children improve their attention span and learning capacity.
            Getting our children to cherish nature will not just help them become responsible citizens, but will even make them better custodians of our home planet, the Earth. That’s all we have to do while we speak a lot about this children’s day.

I am concluding this article with the famous lines by Edna Jaques
“Go out, go out I beg of you    
And taste the beauty of the wild.    
Behold the miracle of the earth     

With all the wonder of a child”.  Edna Jaques


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